The Conjuring series is a horror fan’s wet dream. Both of James Wan’s Conjuring films feel old fashioned by paying homage to the horror giants of the 1970s while also taking advantage of a more modern sense of camera fluidity. Wan’s films have been massively creative by delivering stark scares, human drama and giving audiences new movie monsters. Ironically, despite Universal Studios attempt to revive their classic Monsters Universe from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s (with the latest version of The Mummy), James Wan’s Conjuring series has really become the modern horror shared universe that Universal used to be in its own era.
Now following the two Annabelle spin-offs is the next spin-off, The Nun. The Nun is another prequel and serves as an origin story to the demon (much like Annabelle: Creation). The film takes place nearly entirely in an abbey in Romania. After a nun commits suicide, a priest, a nun in training and a local French Canadian go to the abbey to investigate (sounds like the start of a bad joke huh?).
Keeping with the idea that The Conjuring series is a horror fan’s wet dream, The Nun is a movie that is made by a horror fan for horror fans who has a deep love of horror. The Nun is directed by Corin Hardy (director of the 2015 horror film The Hallow) who has said that the movie that made him want to make movies was Evil Dead 2. It is clear he is a horror fan- not only does he nod and homage the Evil Dead series but only classic Universal horror and the German Expressionist horror of the 1920s. There is a heavy use of shadows, gothic atmosphere, fog, and a lot of lanterns. The abbey is more like the castles from James Whale’s Frankenstein or Tod Browning’s Dracula with its large stone staircases and dark corridors.
The Nun’s greatest strengths are its nods to horror history (even if the Evil Dead nods feel a bit inappropriate), the heavy and dark atmosphere, and the character of the Nun remains as iconic as she was in The Conjuring 2. The Weaknesses are just about everything else. The Nun is an incredibly inconsistent film.
After a fantastic opening scene, the movie struggles to really bring together the scares. Corin Hardy is great at establishing the atmosphere of the movie with the deep musical chorus (which was conducted by Abel Korzeniowski) and the fleeting images of the Nun (once again played by Bonnie Aarons). However, Corin Hardy has trouble delivering the scares. The buildup is good; the mood is excellent but the scares are mostly cheap jump scares that don’t feel very inventive and are predictable. There is only so long that Hardy can get by on atmosphere alone. The Nun lacks the fluid camerawork of James Wan and the smart balance of mood and the effective jump scares of David F. Sandberg’s work in Annabelle: Creation. The Nun has jump scares but most of them aren’t effective because they are entirely too repetitive.
The Nun’s biggest sin (pun intended) is the story. This should have been the easiest part of the movie. We know where the story has to go so it is just a matter of getting there. There is a neat little tie-in with the original Conjuring but that’s about the biggest compliment I can give this narrative. The lack of story and character is alarming. The movie feels more like a bullet list of scenes that the producers wanted rather than something that naturally occurs in the story. The story is choppy and the storytelling feels random like everything was being made up on the spot.
Also, for a demon nun that wants to kill people, she spends a lot of the screen time just pulling pranks rather than actively going out for the kill. It is natural in a demonic horror film that attacks gradually build or get more violent. But the opening of the movie establishes the Nun in a very violent manner. The Nun is characterized as an unstoppable force. For the character to spend the rest of the movie just simply toying with the protagonists really degrades the imposing nature of the villain. It’s the same complaint I had with the 2008 film The Strangers. Just try and kill the characters already! Does the Shark wait to kill in Jaws? No! Your villain looks incompetent otherwise. The Nun is either lazy with her prey or bad at killing.
The Nun should be the star of The Nun, but instead, the movie keeps holding the character back and for really no story reason at all with most of the action occurring with different demonic forms. The main protagonists really don’t have much to them and appear to be skeletons. This has quite possibly the worst and useless movie priest of all time (he is certainly in the running) in Father Burke Demián Bichir. The character named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) is an enjoyable character but is underused. The character of Sister Irene (played by Taissa Farmiga) is performed well but she’s a flat and blank character. The biggest problem is that her character never feel like they have much effect in the story making them passive rather than active.
The Nun is not the spin-off of The Conjuring I was hoping for. Corin Hardy’s command of the horror genre keeps the movie engaging and the atmosphere also keeps the movie a cut above the first Annabelle film. But The Nun isn’t as good Annabelle: Creation and not nearly to the level of the Conjuring films. I really like the character of the Nun and perhaps a future installment will make better use of her (much like the second Annabelle film made better use of the Annabelle character). Until then, I will sit and wait for the next Conjuring film or the next monster spin-off to continue to this wonderful universe that’s cross feels a bit chipped with this latest installment. Bring on the Crooked Man spin-off!